Living with the Judge
In the Book of Common Prayer, the canticle after the Old Testament lesson at Morning Prayer is always the Te Deum. In the Roman Divine Office, the Te Deum is only used on Sundays and solemnities. This means that every day (according to the BCP) we use this phrase ‘We believe that Thou shalt come to be our judge. Come then Lord and help your people bought with the price of your own blood and bring us with your saints to glory everlasting’.
In the Prayer Book, judgment is a daily theme. The Te Deum provides a template on which to lay all our life as we consider Christ as our judge.
The Te Deum makes it clear that Jesus is the Judge, the same Judge who ‘shall come again in glory to judge both the quick and the dead’. Jesus has come to us to redeem us; he has come as the Advent Collect reminds us in ‘great humility’. Jesus our Judge is loving and merciful and this love was revealed by ‘his death upon the cross for us miserable sinners’. There is nothing to fear in the judgement of one who died for us ‘while we were still sinners’ (Romans 5.8)
There is certainly a fearfulness which is appropriate in the face of judgement. But this judgement is one that the Holy Spirit enables us to exercise on ourselves in coming to recognise the extent of the disorder in our lives and our falling short in our love of God and our neighbour. The spirit of penitence is the spirit of self-judgement. The Prayer Book Communion Service makes this plain in the Third Exhortation. As we prepare to ‘eat spiritually the flesh of Christ and to drink his blood’ we must beware of ‘receiving the same unworthily’. Thus the exhortation runs ‘judge therefore yourselves brethren, that ye be not judged of the Lord, repent you truly for your sins past; have a lively and steadfast faith in Christ our Saviour’. Self-examination and confession are the outcome of recognising the reality of encountering the holy presence of Christ, our Judge and our Redeemer. Self – judgement is the only sure path to holiness and wholeness.
It is a mark of the humility of Christ our Judge that he should first allow us to judge ourselves. He offers to us the reality and experience of his divine presence in the Holy Communion to give both necessity and urgency to our self- judgement. Our Lord is a judge who graciously waits for us to come for judgement and is full of compassion and mercy.
The judgement of Christ is not solely a Last Thing, it is the constant experience for those who live in love and faith with Him who knows and loves us. All this is summed up in the heartfelt prayer at the Burial of the Dead in the Prayer Book. ‘Thou knowest Lord the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, thou most worthy Judge eternal suffer us not at our last hour, for any pains of death to fall from thee.’